Monday, August 19, 2013

Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth by E. L. Konigsberg (1967)

Both From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth were published in the same year.  They certainly have the same feeling about them.  I think - and I think most would agree - that Mixed-up Files is a slightly better book.  It certainly has a better ending!  Jennifer ends far too abruptly; it's a really squishy ending too.  I didn't like it.  I'm not sure how it's supposed to end, but this ending seemed way too pat.

I love the characters in this book, and that's probably what pissed me off about the ending - the characters acted one way up until the last chapter, and then suddenly became other characters, very different.  Change can happen to characters, but this change seemed quick, sort of opportunistic (at least for the author), and just not very believable.  Elizabeth and Jennifer would have starred in a series of books if this had been written 40 years later; they also reminded me much of characters in Zilpha Keatley Snyder (comtemporary to this one) novels.  The Changeling I was reminded of in particular, also about a shy girl with a single friend; only Elizabeth was much more snarky, sarcastic, less artistic, smarter than Marty Mouse from The Changeling (I don't want to detract in any way from The Changeling, which is a marvelous, wisftully wonderful book - or Marty, who is a beautiful character in her own right).

Jamie and Claudia did not change at the end of Mixed-up Files.  They were changed by the events that happened to them, but they suddenly didn't become different characters.  Their core was still the same.  That's not true of Elizabeth and Jennifer.

Mixed-Up Files has more sophisticated use of language than Jennifer.  That said, I'm reading Agatha Christie's The Man in the Brown Suit as well, and both use this word - undefined - asafetida.   I know from looking it up at that it's a soft, brown, lumpy gum resin having a bitter, acrid taste and anobnoxious odor, obtained from the roots of several Near Easternplants belonging to the genus Ferula,  of the parsley family: formerlyused in medicine as a carminative and antispasmodic.  I wasn't really familiar with substance at all, and now I've seen it twice in as many weeks, in two completely different books!

Like The Snowy Day (a near contemporary), Jennifer's African-American heritage seems beside the fact; I probably knew she was black (or Negro, as the books calls her, completely of its time), but it neither mattered or played a role in the plot.  Although a desegregated school in 1967 probably WAS a big deal...

Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William Mckinley, And Me, ElizabethJennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William Mckinley, And Me, Elizabeth by E.L. Konigsburg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Elizabeth and Jennifer are two of the more well drawn and memorable best friends in children's literature in this well respected (if not quite beloved) classic.  The fact that they are interracial friends probably meant a ton in 1967, although I don't recall thinking that was such a big deal twelve years later or so when I first read this (probably around 1980).  Elizabeth, who narrates, is far snarkier and less shy than you would imagine; Jennifer is perfectly serious in a hilarious way.  The book has some incredibly funny moments, subtle but great.  It's the end that completely pisses me off; I don't remember caring all that much about the end as a kid, but as a grown, I thought it was really abrupt and unexpectedly squishy.  Konigsberg published From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler later that same year, and it's a slightly better book; it certainly has a better ending!

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